Sam Bradford is used to sacrifice. He denies himself the guilty pleasure of local sports talk radio and insists he doesn’t read the newspaper or surf the Web for sports dope. How one man can live such a monkish existence is difficult to comprehend, but the Rams quarterback insists he is happy in seclusion.
“To be honest, I just don’t pay any attention to it,” Bradford said about the information swirl. “I don’t read the paper, don’t listen to the radio, don’t watch the news.”
Bradford, 26, would just as soon not hear himself publicly described as an underachiever or an uncultivated pearl. He senses what’s out there but doesn’t crave confirmation.
“I know I’m doing the right things,” he said following Thursday’s final installment of organized team activities at Rams Park. “Maybe it hasn’t paid off yet. Maybe we haven’t taken the next step. I know what I’m doing is a process. Just be patient. This year I think we’re going to take the next step.”
Bradford, drafted to help transform a franchise, has had four seasons in the NFL. Two of the last three have been marred by injury, including last year’s shredded left knee that required season-ending surgery.
Thursday represented a milestone of sorts — not just because Bradford completed his second full-squad workout under center, but because he finally gets to go home.
Part of Bradford’s sentence for last October’s injury was almost establishing residence in Earth City. Except for a few weekends when granted leave, Bradford spent about 10 hours daily at the Rams' training facility rehabilitating under trainer Reggie Scott and strength-and-conditioning coach Rock Gullickson. January and February typically offer time to unwind. This year they were devoted to staying on course for summer work. Bradford postponed his traditional March throwing program in order to literally get both legs beneath him.
“Obviously, this year everything has been different,” he said.
Bradford now works with a telltale brace on his left knee. No determined pass rush chased him this week, but he moved nimbly for a guy who last autumn was seen writhing on the Bank of America Stadium sideline. He also sounds like a guy seeking a cure for cabin fever.
“I’d be lying if I told you it hasn’t been a grind at times, especially when you think since last July 20-something for training camp I’ve been in this facility every week,” Bradford said. “These are long seasons. Normally you need some time to decompress. Mentally, I was able to get away a little while. But just being away from the facility, that’s when you can really relax.”
Bradford may be on a golf course in Oklahoma this weekend. It's his personal therapy. But he won’t be able to completely escape next month’s training camp.
“It’s not really a true break like if it was January or February,” said Bradford, whose playing career has been hampered by shoulder, ankle and knee issues since winning the Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma. “You’ve got to mentally and physically push yourself so you don’t lose ground once training camp starts.”
Bradford conceded he needs to rebuild stamina in his legs. He trusts his left knee but also realizes a true test remains almost two months down the road.
“Obviously, the biggest thing is going to be getting out there in our first preseason game,” he said of the Aug. 8 home preseason game against the New Orleans Saints. “In practice right now I don’t think about my knee. But at the same time I know I’m not going get hit in practice. The next challenge is to step on the field during a live game situation just proving to myself that everything is still the same.”
Bradford realized he would be physically ready to fully participate this week when he took part in May’s skills development program and received limited exposure in the first week of OTAs. He should be full tilt when training camp opens July 24.
Bradford will operate an offense dedicated heavily to the run. Head coach Jeff Fisher is making no apologies for a smash-mouth approach more in line with the Rams’ NFC West surroundings.
“We’re going to run until they stop it,” Bradford said at one point Thursday.
In turn, the approach should alleviate some pressure from Bradford — at least until the Rams find themselves digging out from a two-possession deficit. Additional depth resides on the offensive line. Fisher may give carries to three rushers.
“We’re not putting a bunch of pressure on Sam,” pledged right guard Rodger Saffold, who returns for his fourth year as one of Bradford’s protectors, “It’s a team sport. He makes the calls. He’s definitely smarter about the offense now. And he does plenty of great things in execution. But we’re not going to rely on just him. We’re going to do whatever we can to make it easier for him and for us. We’re going to simplify some things and detail others.”
Bradford recognizes what the team did last season both with and without him. The 7-9 Rams defeated the 10-win Arizona Cardinals in Week One and in early November destroyed the playoff-bound Indianapolis Colts on the road with Kellen Clemens pitching in relief. They dominated the New Orleans Saints in mid-December. The Rams also regressed against division opponents.
“There were games when we showed we’re capable of playing with anyone in the league,” Bradford said. “The past two years the challenge for us has been playing at that level week in and week out. Across the league, the best teams are the most consistent teams.”
Bradford was on pace for 30 touchdowns, a career-best completion rate and almost 4,000 yards when felled in Carolina last season. However, he remains a first overall draft pick yet to take his team to the postseason. He knows questions persist about his ability to elevate a team. Though Bradford doesn’t indulge heavily in media, he surely senses growing scrutiny that follows him. Bradford would prefer to find answers within himself rather than by twisting the radio dial.
“Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure you guys are really good,” Bradford told an afternoon gathering that featured several local talkers. “It’s just that I choose to listen to music when I’m in the car.”
Bradford knows that the slog resumes late next month. He has lived the grind of rehabilitating his left knee. For the immediate future he wants to indulge a golf game that has fallen into disrepair. Bradford’s grandfather exposed him to the game when Bradford was five. He became a scratch player in college and maintained a 2-handicap before his knee unraveled. For the next five weeks No. 8 will again seek out the course as a refuge.
“People always have those places where they go and completely escape,” Bradford noted. “The golf course is one of those places for me. I love being outside. I’m usually with three or four good friends. We don’t talk football, politics or real life. We’re just having fun.”
He spoke with the weariness of someone emerging from an eight-month ordeal with at least five months worth of grind awaiting. Somebody hand him an 8-iron and free relief.